To me, bagels are like a religious experience. And that's saying a lot for a non-believer. For every New Yorker, bar none, bagels are a rite of passage. This delicious savory transcends race, creed, gender, ethnicity, political affiliations,whatever. If you're a newcomer in the city, or been here all your life, bagels are part of your psyche. For most, it is the morning meal that defines your day.
Nothing compares to a New York style bagel, boiled, chewy, and crusty. Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought the bagel with them to North America at the turn of the twentieth century. And they settled all over, not only in New York. Many went to Canada so that today you have the Toronto and Montreal-style bagel. I've had Canadian bagels. They're not bad. But there's something about a New York bagel that just makes it different. Some say it's the water and, to a certain extent that may be so. Supposedly, the water from New York reservoirs is among the best in the nation. All I know in that I've had bagels (or facsimiles thereof) in other parts of the nation and Europe. It ain't the same.
However, I did discover that when the genuine thing is not available, there are passable substitutes. About fifteen years ago I took a trip to Bozeman, Montana, a beautiful part of the country. No New York bagels. But I discovered that, in a pinch, Lender's Frozen bagels aren't that bad---especially if you've got nothing else.
And of course, we all have our preferences in types and flavors. We know that bagels are often topped with seeds (the most popular being poppy and sesame), or infused with other ingredients. My wife, Holly, prefers onion bagels. I prefer pumpernickel. We both love our bagels topped with whitefish. Although, from what I've seen, the all-time favorite is still bagels with lox and a schmear (cream cheese). Lox is cured salmon. I prefer Nova, or Nova Scotia lox, which is cured in a milder brine solution. Some aficionados prefer gravlax (gravad lox), which is not smoked and coated with a spice mixture.
Most Midwesterners out there are saying, What's with this bagel thing? Well, it's like an egg-cream soda, another New York staple. If you've never had it, you just don't know. When I was in Buffalo one time, I had a beef on wek. It's a local thing that once you try it, you get hooked.
Oh, if you can find a genuine shop that makes their own bagels on premises, like Bagel Works on First Avenue, then you've struck gold. Bagels have become a big industry and most are now made for distribution nation wide. So, if you have to, wherever you may be, look out for the local product. Believe it or not, they are out there. We discovered local bagel joints even in the wilds of Vermont. If it's made on site, you're in heaven.
Labels: Bagel, Canada, Cream cheese, Lox, New York, New York City, Toronto, United States